Love and Honor Your Brain

I took an Internet test to see what my life expectancy would be. The test asked a lot of questions about life habits, history of disease in the family, and even education. After I’d answered all the questions I clicked the Calculate-Life-Expectancy button at the bottom of the page. Barring any accidents, I could live to 94.3 years old. That’s way longer than I expected and about when my land contract is up.

The question for us all is not how long can we live, but how can we live a long and healthy life?


Some Sobering Statistics

The sobering part of this is that by age 80 we have a 30% chance of getting dementia and by 85 it’s almost a 50% chance of getting some type of dementia whether it’s from Alzheimer’s (AD), Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, Creutzfeldt-Jakob, vascular dementia, stroke, or other diseases.

That’s pretty scary to me since my husband, Bob, had Alzheimer’s for 14 years. He passed away unable to feed or toilet himself, walk, or remember our life together. He could barely speak and when he did, he mostly made no sense at all.

The Alzheimer’s Association states that someone in the US develops Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds. The report also says that 5.8 million people in the US alone are living with the disease. Less than 4% of those are under the age of 65.


Embracing our Brains

Despite these statistics, I find dwelling on them makes for too many anxious or sleepless nights. For me, it’s important to know the facts but not be controlled by them. Instead I choose to live with a positive attitude and a healthy lifestyle. How about you? Are you motivated to make changes in your lifestyle to stave off dementia? Not sure how to do this? There’s no single way to delay or prevent dementia, but there are actions that may help reduce your risk.


What You Can Do

The Alzheimer’s Organization suggests ways to give yourself a better chance of doing just that. And the number one item is not a surprise. Here it comes (and I know you might not want to hear this) – exercise.

I’ve been reading an increasing amount of articles on the importance of exercise in our elder years. Scientific studies show an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.

You don’t have to go to the gym like I do. You can choose whatever you enjoy doing as long as it gets your heart rate up for 30 to 45 minutes at a time, several days a week. This increases blood flow to the brain and body. Start out slowly, but start!

And work your way up to the optimal time. I find it difficult to get myself out of the office and to the gym because there’s always work to do and I love my work, but once I get there, I feel great – especially when the workout is over!

While I’m on the elliptical and treadmill machines, I study a foreign language so I’m exercising my brain as well as my body. It also takes the tedium out of going nowhere fast. And learning something new happens to be another recommendation of the Alzheimer’s Organization for staving off dementia.

If you’re under a doctor’s care, be sure to check your exercise regime with the doc before starting.


Food, Glorious Food

Another action the Alzheimer’s Organization suggests is eating a heart healthy diet that not only helps your brain but also reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. One of the best ways to do this is to eat more vegetables. I’m not talking about plain steamed or boiled veggies but deliciously prepared vegetables, satisfying vegetables. You can find a lot of sumptuous recipes on Pinterest or check out my old column, Food Glorious Food, still on the Bali Advertiser website:

The same risk factors for obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes can negatively impact your cognitive health. I’m a firm believer in not denying myself the food I love, but rather in lowering the portion size, and of course eating those vegetables.

Evidence shows that smoking increases the risk of mental decline and quitting can decrease your risk to the same as someone who doesn’t smoke.

Not getting enough sleep can also impact you brain’s cognitive function. There have been recent studies that connect sleep apnea to cognitive decline. Have you noticed on the nights you get enough sleep, everything seems clearer?

Take care of your mental health. Some studies link a history of depression with increased risk of cognitive decline, so seek treatment if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns. And try to manage stress.

The Alzheimer’s Association suggests staying socially active. See friends. Join groups. Play games. Volunteer. Just get your butt out of the house and see people! Yes, even you introverts.

If I’m going to live to that 94.3 years, I want to do it with style, verve, energy, a continuing desire to learn, a sense of wonder, a group of close friends, and, oh yes, with humor. Embracing my brain, cherishing it and treating it right, go a long way to attaining those goals.

You can read more about dementia in Susan’s book – Piece by Piece: Love in the Land of Alzheimer’s, available at Ganesha Bookstore or on Amazon.


By Susan Tereba

The Boomer Corner is a column dedicated to people over 60 living in Bali. Its mandate is to cover topics, practicalities, activities, issues, concerns and events related to senior life in Bali. We welcome suggestions from readers.

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